After Church, I Meet the Sun Everything's peeling in the alley where I meet her some Sundays, and this week's sermon is a scab she flicks away under old car advertisements, posters for weight loss pills, new altars we worship. I kneel before her in the dirt outside the passenger door with sand in my scraped knees, staring God down, not looking where I'm going. I am going to trip on Heaven and crash straight into Hell. But it's the falling I want to make last, the reaching out with both hands for all of her in the back alley where we have been fasting, where we hunger. I'm catching her like the sun on telephone wires, I'm a sunfish hooked on the cuffs of her jeans, her face a sunflower blooming over me, my words a sunlit earthly kind of prayer.
Second Month in a New State It's a new feeling, this restless busy loneliness. Ecstatic-enlightened-childish-crude, I count sidewalk cracks to class, head bent, sore neck, sore skull, an expensive pain, an expensive wave to the professor, little nod. I would eat spiders to feel something wake up in me again. I contemplate washing my clothes in the bathroom sink. I contemplate the words of Homer and Herodotus. I become a duality, rising and sinking, the mind and the body, the soul. Mine does not know what it wants. It says, I only want to find a cool dark place to sleep. I only want to let myself be drawn outside of me. I want, in this most beautiful of worlds, to feel alive but not to live— a question with both wrong answers.
Recontextualizing The water is somewhere, shimmering. Your right hand is here, opening, my index finger skimming over a crease. Words curl across your skin. I tell you their shape has meaning: that when you love it is with all the heart that flutters in your palm. I am already learning how heavy it is to love you– still, I let each reassuring phrase be said. We are not sheltered by the house called truth. A lie is nothing more than a boarded window in an empty room. In the river by the school, that day we climbed down to the bank, my searching hands slid across yours, but when I looked I was holding only a dead fish, rotting on its slick pollution-foam throne. Thinking of its skin, I say again: if you ever love, it will be with all the warmth you can fit in the stiff curve of one dead palm. You look at me like in my fist I hold some pitiful broken thing. It is only your hand, tightening over mine, fingers pale as fish bone.
Before First Flight As they kneel laying feathers in the tar Icarus tells his father yes I am afraid of heights but still I stand on the blade of the cliff watching waves crash and rebound watching Apollo, his winged chariot my hope is a plea a kind of prayer asking when you made this mortal terror, this ache of being human and struck it ablaze on the matchbox of my restless hands, did you intend for me to live along the silver-sharp slice of a knife, and does this burning leave me charred or am I glowing with it, and when we fly among the gods of men as open as we’ll ever be will we look down nostalgic for the falling? And steady-handed Daedalus replies there is nothing worth fearing in the tide’s turning and nothing in the sky and nothing in the ship’s forgotten flag and nothing in the sun, and he says Icarus my son you are the ant in the spiral shell, blind and empty, always both pulled and pulling, seeking, seeking.
The Heart (Trigger warning for self injury.) The heart is a scaled and shameful thing. The heart catches on the same brambles it grew around itself to keep itself from touching the world. The heart says warm your hands by the oven or plunge your hands into the bubbling water on the stove. To feel nothing at all is all I have wanted for many an unmatched summer day. To want nothing, this I want more than anything, want meticulously, with a wanting that catches nothing more in its design than the weight of its own treacherous desire.
Originally from Chicago, IL, Lee Johns is now studying English at a university on the East Coast. Their poetry has previously been published in Body Without Organs. Right now, you can probably find them at the library.
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